Ambrose Bierce defines 'Politics as Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.' When this is valid for the whole world it not surprising in a nation like India where there is a surfeit of everything except integrity.
Vaasanthi, a popular writer, journalist in Tamil had ventured into a book titled 'Cutouts, Castes and Cinestars' where in she explored the gaudy shades of tumultuous Tamil Nadu politics. Though a Tamilian by birth, Vaasanthi had spent her early days in other parts of India and by the time she landed in Chennai as the editor of the Tamil edition of 'India Today', she had countless opportunities to witness and experience the unique world of Tamil Nadu politics.
The book carries a lengthy introduction and divided into 25 chapters; Vaasanthi analyses the political scenarios that existed in Tamil land during different periods, the genesis of several parties specially the Dravida Kazhagams, the strange psyche of the Tamil population, the idiosyncrasies of the leaders, the outside factors which played major role in the state's politics, the regional parties' strong hold on the national level, the death of national parties in the state etc. In the last one decade, there was surfacing of several outfits based on caste. It is probably the only state in India where film personalities had found their route to land on politics. The larger than life image of these film actors still have a sway over the masses in their favor ' be it a powerful scriptwriter like Karunanidhi, a benevolent screen hero MG Ramachandran or a glamorous yesteryear heroine Jayalalithaa.
Still caste has a vital place in Tamil Nadu politics. The socially oppressed or ostracized lots have now in a position to dictate the state and the central. Dravida Kazhagam, which was founded by EV Ramasami Naicker purely stemmed on the hatred towards the upper caste and to educate the lower strata of the society. Later, on personal grounds, the genesis of DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and then AIADMK ( All India Anna Draivida Munnetra Kazhagam) happened. This has been faithfully followed even now with more 'Dravida' parties like MDMK (Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) , PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) , DP (Dalit Panthers) and the latest DMDK (Desia Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam) by another film star Vijayakanth who had victoriously entered the assembly as a single representative after the recent elections.
Idelogies? All parties have the same agenda with just marginal manipulations. All of them are hungry of power and if power is given they all adept in abusing it with impunity. If Jayalalithaa is a megalomaniac, Karunanidhi is wily than a fox, Ramadas of PMK is a mercenary to the core, Vaiko is a tin drum. All their parties depend only on the leader and most of the followers are just shameless sycophants or spineless slaves.
Vaasanthi dwells deep into the emergence of these political outfits and communal parties, the appalling incidents, unsavory electoral alliances and their ruthless crossover from one to another for the sake of power and position.
In fact, after reading the book a Tamilian may feel totally mortified by the paradoxical political history of Tamil Nadu. Ideology and principle are the most battered words in India especially in Tamil Nadu. If someone is interested in knowing to what extent this could be done, they may better read Vaasanthi's book.
The greatest advantage of the book is Vaasanthi's straightforward, simple and lucid language with minimum bias in her approach to this anthology.